Sunday, November 8, 2015

California 101

In my previous blog posts, I wrote about my trip to Hong Kong and Vancouver.  Not even a month has elapsed since I came back and I was asked to travel to our company headquarters in California for 7 weeks. Yeah, my company is making me a globetrotter. The bay area, as it is called, is kind of like Bangalore. Pleasant weather, IT crowd, traffic, food from all the cuisines and a lot of people speaking Telugu and Tamil (not kidding). For  people who do not know about the Silicon Valley, this post would serve as an introduction and for rest of the folks Route-101 is the freeway that connects the cities in the valley (see what I did there with the title).

Like my previous posts, I will first cover about basic survival and then write about recreation. There are 3 airports – San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose (pronounced San Hosae). If you have less luggage, UBER is the best option to and from the airport. I heard there is a shuttle too but was not very sure about the timings and routes. I would highly recommend taking a rental car if you have that choice since public transport on weekdays is time consuming and on weekends it is kind off non-existent. Unlike in India, you will hardly find the residential areas and shopping complexes together. US has the concept of downtowns. It is like the heart of the city with restaurants and shopping complexes (like the MG or Brigade road in Bangalore). Each city in the bay area has a downtown and these are connected by CalTrain.


Caltrains run every 20-40mins on weekdays between San Francisco and San Jose. If you stay near the downtown then it would be the quickest way to visit places. You need to purchase the ticket from the vending machine before boarding the train. Buses have an on-board ticketing machine but you need to tender exact change. Google maps will be give you up-to-date information of bus routes and transits. You can rent cycles for $9 a day through bike share that are kept in most places. If you are going to stay for a longer duration, I think you can consider buying a used cycle and later sell it when returning. Will come handy, trust me. I will not cover stay as I assume most people will visit here on business and the employer will take care of it. Though I am told that accommodation is pretty expensive. Keep a few dollars handy especially $1 bills as you will need it for transport.

So now that we covered the basics, let me highlight what to do in the bay area. The first thing would be visiting San Francisco. You can easily spend a weekend going around the city. Next would be visiting headquarters of the famous IT companies. I only visited Google and went past Twitter and FB offices (couldn’t take a selfie there though!). There is a walking trail near Google HQ which will lead to the Shoreline Park. You can hike a bit here and will also get a good view of the bay.

You can visit the Stanford Campus if you have time. Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay are about 2hrs away by public transport and can be covered in a day. I will cover these places with details in next couple of posts.

Next up, shopping. This might be true across US and not just specific to California. Unlike popular beliefs, chocolates are not cheaper in airports. Find someone who has a membership and head over to Costco. You will find everything a lot cheaper there. If you have to buy gifts to your family then head to Ross/Sears to get good deals. You could buy toys and other household stuff at Target/Walmart. Pack light when you head to US and have an extra bag to fill when you return. Some deals will make you buy things which you may never need or use in your life :). Before you purchase anything check the prices in India (any eCommerce site). When you account for the 7.5% sales tax along with conversion rate and charges levied by your bank, the product might just be cheaper to buy in India.

Last but not the least, Food. Every downtown has a whole bunch of places that offer different cuisines. The closest to my place was the Mountain View downtown. Stephen Green pub has some amazing beer and food. Crepevine is a must visit for brunch. Mongolian BBQ and Owens has good middle eastern food. Molly Magees is a club with a dance floor. Crowd is just amazing. Gordon Biersch Brewery is San Jose downtown is a nice place to dine with friends. Firehouse Grill in Sunnyvale and Old Pro in University Avenue are amazing sports bars. Various downtowns have hookah joints as well. You will find Cheese Cake Factory in Hillsdale, University Avenue and San Francisco downtown. You could try the fast food chains like Carls Jr, McD, Wendy’s, Subway, Taco Bell and KFC to save some money. A meal will cost you less than $5 at these places. There are a bunch of Indian and Burmese/Pakistani restaurant in El Camino and Sunnyvale but if you are in US for a short trip then avoid those (Unless you want some food close to home :)).

Well that’s crash course 101 about California Bay Area. I have a couple more posts planned for this week  that cover a few places in detail. Do drop in your comments and feedback and I could write more (or less).

1) Thanks to Pradeep for being my guide (and chauffeur) for providing me with information and getting me around when required.
2) My colleagues Nyle and Krishna for being there to go explore new places.

You might also be interested to read: HongKong, Vancouver, Boston, New York

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